November 18, 2015
How Rhode Island Accents (Nearly) Ruin Lives
Know a Rhode Islander with a ridiculous accent? Try being raised by one.
By Kaitlyn Murray
I should start off by saying that while I did graduate from URI, I am not quite Rhode Island-born and Rhode Island-bred (and hopefully not Rhode Island-dead anytime soon). I’m a Florida-transplant; I didn’t wind up in Little Rhody until I was four years old. This could be why I never developed a real Rhode Island accent – an impressive feat, if you knew my mother. She was a Rhode Islander, through and through.
Her accent had always been a running gag between she and my New York native father. During a camping trip in their early days of dating, my mom casually told my dad to ‘watch out for the bear.’ When he sprang into action, looking panicked, my mom was baffled. Turns out she was warning him that he was in danger of knocking over his Heineken (to no avail, the beer toppled off the table when he jumped) and not of a ferocious animal attack. While I knew the story quite well, I had never really given my parents’ respective accents much thought.
We left the Sunshine State behind to join family up north; my dad’s on Long Island and my mom’s in Smithfield. We landed in South County (probably to placate my dad’s revulsion for all things winter – at least we were still near a beach). More specifically, across from a rowdy, college bar in Narragansett. We only stayed for about a year or so (my parents weren’t exactly fond of the broken beer bottles on our front lawn or the hoots and hollers that woke their young child at one in the morning), but I still clearly remember our time there; the way the storefront’s giant neon sign cast a warm glow over my room as I fell asleep each night.
I also recall that we crossed the street for “supper” quite regularly. And by regularly, I mean we ate there twice a week, if not more. With demanding work schedules and a picky eater child that loved chicken fingers, it was an easy option (I sure didn’t complain). Eventually we picked up and moved to the other end of ‘Gansett, and while we did go back for a meal every now and then, I became way more interested in their game room than anything else.
Then, when I was around eleven or twelve, my dad’s dad came up from Philly for a visit. The last time my grandpa stopped by we had lived in the old neighborhood – and he had been a big fan of our former neighbors’ cooking (or, really, the bar’s large TVs capable of broadcasting the Eagles game). So we headed to our old stomping grounds for dinner. Because of present company, I could not escape to my usual stakeout at the pool table. I had to stick around and make conversation – even order for myself for a change.
And it was in that moment, looking at the ‘adult’ menu, that my entire life began to unravel. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic, but it was a pretty big deal in my adolescent mind.
I distinctly remember blurting out, “Why does this say Charlie O’s?”
My parents wore identical expressions of confusion. My grandpa looked concerned. My dad said something to the effect of, “Because that’s where we are,” while my mom explained, “Most restaurants put their name on the menu, sweetie.”
“But it’s spelled weird. There’s an R.”
I was an avid reader and aspiring writer – spelling was my jam. I just couldn’t believe that the owners had made such an egregious mistake on their own menu.
And then I realized it wasn’t their mistake.
It was mine.
“You’re telling me that this place is called CHARlie O’s?”
More confusion. More concerned looks.
“What did you think it was?”
As in Charlie, hold the r.
Even though I had seen the sign every night for a good year (granted, I couldn’t read at that time, but I knew the alphabet!), even though I had returned countless times in the six or so years in between, even though I was old enough to realize that Cholly isn’t a word, my belief that my favorite restaurant was named Cholly O’s prevailed thanks to my parents’ pronunciations.
While the rest of my table cry-laughed, I began to contemplate my entire existence (okay, more like second-guess everything my parents had ever said): What else had I been saying wrong? In what other ways had these people set me up for failure? Did I need to get my ears checked? My eyes checked? And, most importantly, when exactly did my dad start dropping his R’s, too?
One good thing did come of my revelation, however: The restaurant’s nickname, Chuck’s, finally made sense.
Anyone else have a similar experience with Rhode Island accents? Share in the comments below or reach out to us on twitter: @InsidersGuideRI. Also be sure to check out Rhode Island Monthly’s fun and classic blog post, “36 Things that Prove You’re From Rhode Island”, for more quirky Rhode Island-isms!